Liz Broderick delivered her last speech as Sex Discrimination Commissioner and she went out with a bang.

Two days before she exits the office of federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Elizabeth Broderick has delivered a passionate speech to the National Press Club in Canberra.

She used the occasion to inspire and educate. To encourage every person in that room and every person listening in to engage in the great unfinished business of the 21st century: eradicating gender inequality.


Because without ordinary individuals engaging in the process, we won’t overcome it. And overcome it, we must.


Because one in four women in Australia has been sexually harassed in the workplace in the past five years.

Because one in five Australian women has experienced sexual assault since the age of 15.

Because two women a week this year have been murdered, often by men they know, including their intimate partners.

Because in 2015 women remain under-represented in leadership positions, in the community, in business, in board rooms and in parliament.

Because there are more men named Peter running companies in Australia than there are women running companies in Australia.

Because companies run by a Peter, a Michael, a David or an Andrew outnumber those run by women four to one.

Because the majority of unpaid caring work, whether that’s caring for children, or a family member or friend with a disability, is undertaken by women.

Because the gender pay gap for a full-time working Australian woman over a typical 45-year career equates to about $700,000.

Because women end their lives with half the retirement income and savings of men.

And as Elizabeth Broderick says: “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not their own facts. Those are the facts.”

So what has she learned in the eight years she has spent championing gender inequality? Plenty.


Watch Elizabeth’s Ted Talk below (post continues after video):

Video via TEDX

These are the 10 lessons she highlighted today.

1. Persist 

“Most progress comes in countless small, intentional steps rather than one giant leap.” she said.

“Shaping a more gender-equal future is a path characterised by persistence. On any matter like this that requires an investment of time and energy, you will be affected by some doubt and touched by some belief. Doubt because that is a trait that bestows humility whilst acknowledging your responsibility; that keeps you searching for the best solution. And strong belief because belief keeps you focused on the outcome, helps you convince others to get on board. But to accelerate change, we must bring our doubt and belief into some kind of productive balance. Because in that productive balance of doubt and belief is my best reason for being optimistic. We must persist. I am optimistic that many of you will move the dial in your own corner of Australia.”

2. Have influence

“You don’t have to be extraordinary to have influence. One woman in the United Nations told me, ‘She did what she could, when she could, and that’s how she changed the world.’ That simple concept gives me confidence and energy,” she said.

“’Do what you can, when you can’ is a beacon of hope.”


3. Collaborate

“You don’t have to change the world alone. As a new Commissioner progressing a paid parental leave scheme, I reached out to Sharran Burrows, head of the ACTU, and Heather Ridout, head of AIG, to look for common ground. And common ground we found. Our opinion piece published shortly thereafter stated: ‘It is not often that the Australian Industry Group, the ACTU and the federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner agree… but we all support …a national, government-funded scheme of paid maternity leave.’


“When you stake out common ground, you create a strong foundation for future reform.”

4. Not all women are equally unequal

“Not all women start from the same position. Therefore, we must be wary of averages, of presenting a uniform picture, or of proposing a one-size-fits-all solution. The fact is that certain groups of women represent the ‘minority of the minority’. Inequality will affect those who have less power to a greater degree,” she said.

“Last year, in rural NSW, a man shot his 3 children and then his wife before taking his own life. The media reported that there were 5 victims. No. There were 4 victims and a murderer. As the late Stella Young wrote: ‘When we hear that a murdered wife is also a woman with a disability, we can find ourselves a little bit less horrified. As though her status as a disabled woman gives us a little more empathy towards the perpetrator of violence. It’s victim blaming at its very worst.'”

5. Actively and intentionally include women

“If we don’t actively and intentionally include women, the system will unintentionally exclude them. The fact is that the idea you can just pour in women and stir will never work. That’s why embracing targets is important.  It does not matter so much what the target is, it’s the act of agreeing on a target and making it public that is important. And targets and merit are not mutually exclusive. In fact, targets are necessary to allow women’s merit to be revealed.”

6. Data alone is never enough

“To create change you must take the case for change from people’s heads to their hearts, with individual stories the spark that fuels a commitment to take action,” Ms Broderick said.

“This means you must operate on two levels. You must pursue systemic change – reforming the broken systems of which you find yourself a part. On the other, you must value acts which correct injustice, which make another person’s day more kind, more just, more dignified. It is right and necessary to hold your compassionate self with your strategic self.”

7. Engage power

“Perhaps the most crucial lesson I’ve learned is to identify where power resides. Then to take the personal directly to its heart,” she said.

“In 2011, I led a review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force. One of the great privileges of my role has been to work with the ADF.

“As I travelled across Australia and beyond, a great many people told me stories – stories about how the ADF had served them well. That was the majority. Others, however, told deeply distressing stories – stories they had never told before.

“I started to understand that whilst it was important to document these stories, it was even more important that those who had the power to redress the wrongs – in other words, powerful, decent men – heard these stories first hand.

“So what did we do? We made arrangements so that the Chiefs of Navy, Airforce, Army, VCDF and the CDF could hear and feel what extreme exclusion means; what it’s like to be on exercise for two months when no-one speaks to you; what it’s like to be sexually assaulted by your instructor, the very person you go to for advice; what it means to have your career ruined because you spoke out.


“I’ll certainly never forget that first face-to-face session – the Service Chief sitting uncomfortably in his chair – the mother nervously escorting her daughter to the chair beside, a box of tissues in the middle. Then that courageous young woman said simply, ‘Sir, I’m so nervous,’ and the Chief replied, ‘Believe me, I’m scared too’.

“In that moment, I knew we had a chance at change. It takes a courageous young woman and an authentic and compassionate military leader to admit that he fears what he’s about to be told.”

8. Women’s voices must be heard

“Women’s voices must elevate. As Leymah Gwobee, Liberian peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, says: ‘There can be no legitimate conversation without the voices of women.’ As Rosie Batty said: ‘Prior to Luke’s death no-one wanted to hear my story of living with violence. Now everyone does.’ It saddens me that, when women living with violence speak, the system doesn’t listen. One of the most important contributions we can make then is to give voice to those who have been silenced – to tell the individual stories that make the broader issue mean something more than just the data.”

9. Women are change-makers

“To have influence, to create momentum, I must have a strong belief in myself, both finding and maintaining courage. Some good counsel for anyone stepping into a role like mine – it is as vital for women to be powerful and influential as it is for men.”

10. We must see the world as it is, rather than as we are

“We show up to each new situation with a backpack of everything we’ve ever learnt. If we do it right, that experience can be instructive. We can take what we have seen and help shape the future. But we must also take on board the experiences of others,” she said.

“Don’t be limited by your own experience – when it comes to gender equality, like anything else worth doing, think big, think creatively, and rewrite the rules.”

Elizabeth Broderick is and always will be a champion for women and gender equality.

“A life without advocating for change is not a life that will have meaning for me,” she explained.

She will continue to use her voice to create an Australia that “welcomes women, that cherishes their voice and eagerly awaits their wisdom”. She will use her influence to “create a world where a woman’s value does not decrease because of another’s inability to see her worth. A world where vulnerability transitions into power, where difference is celebrated, where leadership is shared and where each half of humanity respects and embraces the other”.

Can you imagine that world? If, like me, you can, we can take the small steps that will eventually amount to a big leap. Like Liz, when we commit to speaking when we see unfairness, we can seek to disrupt the status quo, to create opportunities for women, to raise our sons and daughters to believe that equality is the only path.

If each of us took that sage advice to simply do what we can, when we can, why can’t we change the world? I think we can.

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